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My wife got a ticket 10 years in Nevada. She paid that ticket, but doesn't have any record of it; we've moved a lot in the last ten years and switched banks several times.

We got a bill from the collections agency. She has been in touch with collections, and they did send a copy of the document from the state of Nevada showing what was owed. We wrote a letter to the judge in Nevada, and then got a letter saying the amount has been lowered to about half of the original amount. The collections agency says the court still owns the debt, and they won't send us a letter showing why/how the amount was reduced.

This is a new and frustrating experience for us - is there any way to prove that this debt has been paid? Can we dispute it with the credit agencies and just ignore it?

EDIT - going through comments and answers in order on the page

Absolutely sure it was paid - it was her first (and only) traffic violation, and she was pretty embarrassed about the whole thing.

We'd like to take care of it since we're hoping to buy a house in the next two years or so.

She had issues getting access to online credit reports for the other two, but Experian showed no record of this, either from the court or the collections agency. When we get ahold of the reports (if it's relevant), I'll update this post.

Initial amount was $400, wife sent an email to the judge, then we heard back from collections that the amount was reduced to $190, although they wouldn't initially send us paperwork to prove that. Never heard from a judge directly, collections said the court still owned the debt.

I will follow up with law SE. If the other two credit reports don't show records of this am I safe (from a financial/credit perspective) ignoring it?

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    The amount they allege you owe might be pertinent here. The chances of someone coming after $10,000 is much greater than if it's a $150 parking ticket. – Chris Nov 23 '16 at 19:08
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    What's the ticket amount? You should also ask this question in law.stackexchange.com to see if there is a statute of limitations. – Sentinel Nov 23 '16 at 19:32
  • How much is the claim? How much is her and your time worth? – Pete Becker Nov 23 '16 at 22:12
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    Lol, I definitely like how money.SE is coming at this from a cost/benefit point of view, whereas law.SE will probably come at it from a "is this legal" standpoint – Chris Nov 24 '16 at 1:14
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    @Chris Most conversations I've had with lawyers have prominently featured cost/benefit analyses. Lawyers tend to be expensive, after all. – phoog Mar 30 '17 at 18:08
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The first thing you should do is write a letter to the collection company telling them that you dispute all charges and demand, per section 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, that they immediately validate and confirm any and all debts they allege you owe. You should further request that that they only communicate with you by mail. Section 809 requires them to examine the legal documents showing you allegedly owe a debt and they are required to send this to you. This all creates a useful paper trail. When you send the letter, be sure to send it as certified mail with a return receipt. From your description, it doesn't sound like this will do anything, but it's important you do it within 30 days of them contacting you. This is because the law allows them to assume the debt is valid if you don't do it within 30 days of their initial contact.

I recommend you speak with an attorney. Most states have a statute of limitation on debt of about 4 or 5 years. I don't know if that applies to courts though. Whatever you do, be very careful of the language you use when speaking with them. Always refer to it as "the alleged debt," or "the debt you allege I owe." You don't want them misconstruing your words later on.

As far as proving you paid it, I would look through every scrap of paper I'd ever touched looking for it. If that proves fruitless, try going to the courthouse and looking through their records. If they're saying you didn't pay, that's a long shot, but still worth a try. You could also try bank records from that time, like if you have a Visa statement showing $276.17 paid to the Nevada Court or something like that.

If all else fails, the law allows you to send the collector a letter saying that you refuse to pay the debt. The collection company then legally must stop contacting you unless it's to tell you they are suing you or to tell you they won't contact you again. I strongly advise against this though. Your best bet is going to be speaking with a qualified attorney.

Edit: You should also pull your credit reports to make sure this isn't being reported there. Federal law gives you the right to have a free copy of each of your credit reports once every year. If it is being reported, send a certified letter with return receipt to each bureau which is reporting it telling them you dispute the information. They then are required to confirm the information. If they can't confirm it, they must remove it. If they do confirm it, you are legally entitled to put a statement disputing the information next to it on your credit report.

I am not an attorney. This is not legal advise. You should consult an attorney who is licensed to practice law in your particular jurisdiction.

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    "...tear apart every scrap of paper..." I don't think using the phrase "tear apart" there is particular a good idea. Consider "dig through" or other phrases that don't imply destroying the paper instead. – jpmc26 Nov 23 '16 at 17:42
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    Excellent advice. As someone in the collections industry, this is exactly what I would do in your situation. One thing to note is to be cordial. It's entirely possible there is just a mishap with someone's systems, and the account was supposed to be closed. If you treat them poorly, for better or worse they will certainly retaliate against you within the law. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Nov 23 '16 at 18:31
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    Getting a lawyer might cost OP more than just paying the alleged debt... – Chris Nov 23 '16 at 19:15
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    @Chris may depend on how many times it's collected from them. – djechlin Nov 23 '16 at 21:18
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    One thing. For the section 809 letter, this is one of those times when you REALLY want to use Registered Mail, not Certified Mail. Certified Mail gets the same handling as plain old First Class Mail, which means it can get lost or thrown away. Registered Mail basically CAN'T get lost, unless it is physically destroyed in a freak accident - and then the Registered Mail paper trail shows you exactly WHICH freak accident destroyed it. – John R. Strohm Nov 23 '16 at 22:37
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I had this happen to me with parking ticket when I was still in school. The tickets were issued by the school police and later dismissed (because I had purchased a year-long parking pass). 3 years later I got a letter alleging that I had unpaid parking ticket. So they lost the record of dismissal. But they did not lose the record of having issued the ticket.

I am fairly certain this happens because legal entities either lose electronic records and restore data from backups without realizing that some corrupted data remains lost or because they transition to a new system and certain real-world events don't get transferred properly to the new system.

Of course, the people with whom you end up interacting at that point have no idea of any potential technical problems (because they may occur only in some technical one-off cases). In my case, I was able to show that I had received a judgement of dismissal. I actually kept the paperwork.

The question is what do you do if you lost the records and the state had lost all electronic records of your payments. Let's assume the collections agency has a record (produced by the state) that you owed the ticket amount, but the state claims that no record exists of you having paid the tickets. What do you do, then?

Carefully compile the list of all possible banks which you could have possibly used. Then request duplicate statements from all the banks which you have on that list. Assuming you were a regular consumer and not running a business, this should not amount to more than 100 pages or so. If you do manage to find the transactions in those bank records, you are in luck. States, unlike the federal government, are not immune from law suits. So you can consult a lawyer.

By fraudulently claiming that you defaulted on payments, the state caused you material harm (by lowering your credit rating and increasing your cost of borrowing). Once you have all the paperwork in hand, you still will have difficult time finding anyone in the state to listen to you. And even if you do, you will not be compensated for the time and expenses you expanded to obtain these records.

If you indeed paid the tickets, then you are being asked to prove your innocence and you are assumed guilty until you do. Again, a good lawyer should be able to do something with that to get you a proper compensation for this.

  • Banks can charge $20 for a single statement, esepcially when you go back a few years – Mawg Nov 24 '16 at 10:59
  • @Mawg, that's entirely conceivable, yes. Which is why to recoup the full costs will likely require legal help. The alternative is not only paying the money which isn't owed, but also having a permanent damage to one's reputation (in the form of reduced credit rating). – Dmitry Rubanovich Nov 24 '16 at 11:05
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    Re: "By fraudulently claiming " -- be careful with the word "fraud"; it means deliberately misrepresenting facts in order to gain something. This was almost certainly not fraud. At worst, a mistake, by one side or the other. – Pete Becker Nov 24 '16 at 12:51
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    @Pete Becker, as always, the cover up is usually worse than the deed. Once the state is presented with even a claim that tickets were paid and the state knows that there was room for some computer error on their part (because they know that they performed a DB restore or a system transition), they have to err on the side of presumption of innocence. If they, at that point, claim that there is nothing wrong with their system while, in fact, they have some room to doubt it, then they overstate the degree of their certainty. And that's a deliberate misrepresentation. Fraudulently? Maybe. – Dmitry Rubanovich Nov 25 '16 at 3:55
  • @PeteBecker Perhaps the word fraud is used a bit colloquially, but it certainly passes the right message. E.g if you make a mistake on your tax form that is in your favour, you may be fined for tax evasion, including the costs of prosecution. It won't be called "tax fraud", but it doesn't have to be to make a court case. – Dmitry Grigoryev Nov 25 '16 at 9:22

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